Mark Schilling's Best Ten 2000 schill
Mon Jan 8 02:02:09 EST 2001

As Aaron mentioned, I also submitted a 2000 Best Ten list to Eiga Geijutsu,
but after the deadline passed I realized I had overlooked Atarashi Kamisama,
definitely the best documentary of the year. I was able, however, to include
it in my Best Ten list for the Japan Times, bumping Sakamoto Junji's Shin
Jinginaki Tatakai from the number ten slot.

Here's my JT article, in full:

Best ten for 2000

For this critic, making an annual Best Ten list becomes tougher the farther
down I go. I usually fill the top slots quickly, but have more trouble
deciding why one good-bad film should be number ten and another, number
nothing. This year, I hit the wall sooner than usual. Although more
under-forty Japanese directors, including Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi
Kurosawa, have become celebrated names on the international festival
circuit, the creative ferment that produced them slowed in the first year of
the new millennium (or the last year of the old one, if you are a strict
calendrial constructionist). Or perhaps, by adding only one new director to
my list, am I exhibiting my creeping conservatism? Find the answer at a
video shop near you.

1. "Kao" (The Face) Junji Sakamoto's "Kao" was a clear choice for number
one, with a strong script, inspired direction and a superb performance by
Naomi Fujiyama, who deserves every acting prize they're giving out this
year. Playing a fat, frumpy seamstress who kills her pretty, popular sister,
then finds a new life on the run, Fujiyama creates a character who may be
almost simple-minded in expressing her fears and needs, but is capable of
telling home truths with a disconcerting straightforwardness. Her many faces
make "Kao" a most extraordinary film

..2. Audition. The frighteningly prolific Takashi Miike -- four films
released in 2000 alone -- made his best yet in "Audition," whose moral is
"be careful what you wish for -- because you just might get it." This film
about a middle-aged widower who finds his romantic ideal -- and discovers
the face of unmitigated evil, is scarier than any of the products of the
so-called "Japanese horror boom" because it springs a genuine surprise,
instead of belaboring a clever gimmick, and builds on it with a
relentlessness that borders on directorial sadism. Hitchcock, I think, would
have loved it

3. Monday. The first three films of Japanese actor-turned-director Sabu
featured chase sequences that accelerated with a mad inventiveness, energy
and logic reminiscent of Buster Keaton, though with more 1990s attitude than
1920s slapstick. In his fourth film, "Monday," Sabu finally gives the chase
a rest, while retaining his distinctive themes and style. More importantly,
this tale of a salaryman's disastrous weekend is all-fours-in-the-air funny.
It's hard, though, to imagine where Sabu will go from here -- save perhaps,
Wile E Coyote style, off the edge of a cliff.

4. The New God (Atarashii Kamisama). Yutaka Tsuchiya's documentary on
members of a rightist punk band begins as a meditation on the search of the
younger generation for meaning in the political and spiritual void of modern
Japan, but becomes an unlikely relationship film, reminiscent of the work of
Ken Loach and Woody Allen. More than the earnest talk about the end of
ideology and the search for meaning, the film's real message is in lead
vocalist Karin Amamiya's absorption in the camera, as though it were a best
friend who would vibrate sympathetically with every tremor of mood. The real
"new god" of her generation has but a single eye.

 5. Love/Juice. This first film by Kaze Shindo about a lesbian love affair
builds to an explosive third act that redeems all the longeurs of the first
two. Shindo, , the granddaughter of master director and scriptwriter Kaneto
Shindo, films this affair, which begins as an idyll, ends in disaster, with
the kind of professional skill and cunning she must have learned at
granddad's knee, but there is nothing derivative or programmatic in her
execution. The most promising debut of the year.

6. Freeze Me. A master explorer of Japan's erotic underworld, with a
preference for avenged-seeking females wielding assault weapons, Takashi
Ishii reveals yet another side in "Freeze Me" -- a fascination with horror
and a blackly humorous, flesh-crawling way of expressing it. The obvious
comparisons are with David Lynch's walks on the weird side, but the core of
this film about a woman's ultimate nightmare -- gangbangers with the
implacability of Terminators -- remains unmistakably Ishii. But instead of
simply repeating a formula, he uncuts expectations to sensual, shocking and
memorable effect.

7. Shikai (The Dentist). In this digital film about a married couple whose
flirtation with S&M becomes a dance with death, former porn director Shun
Nakahara returns to the erotic power and insightfulness of his earlier work,
while venturing farther out on the sexual and emotional edge. Think of the
Nagisa Oshima erotic classic "Ai no Corrida" (In the Empire of the
Senses) -- only with the roles reversed.

8. Ame Agaru. As narratively unadorned as a folk tale, with an affirmative
message as straightforward as its samurai hero is upright, Takashi Koizumi's
"Ame Agaru," with a script by Akira Kurosawa, is hardly a masterpiece on the
order of "Shichinin no Samurai" (The Seven Samurai). Nonetheless, in
transferring Kurosawa's script to the screen, the film's staff and cast,
including long-time Kurosawa assistant Koizumi, have channeled his spirit
without being slavishly imitative of his methods. Instead of a dull memorial
service, the film has the feeling of an affectionate farewell from the
master himself.

9. Zawa Zawa Shimokitazawa. In filming a group portrait of life in
Shimokitazawa, a Tokyo bohemian enclave that has managed to resist the
rising tide of McDonaldization, Jun Ichikawa has returned, in "Zawa Zawa
Shimokitazawa," to typical form. Though often compared to Yasujiro Ozu for
his impeccable compositions, lyrical shotmaking, and humanistic concerns,
Ichikawa also resembles French filmmaker Eric Rohmer in his sensitive,
affectionate attention to the realities of relationships in today's advanced
societies, whose principals may seem freer than their tradition-bound
parents, but whose romantic transactions are also more fragile and

10. Charisma. An allegory about a mysterious tree that affects all who come
in contact with it, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Charisma has a compelling dream
logic, while posing questions that go to the heart of modern attitudes
toward nature, society and even life itself. What one of the film's
contending factions regards as life-giving, another sees as
life-threatening. What one want to save, another tries to exploit -- or
kill. The truth is out there, says "The X-Files." "Charisma" makes the less
popular, but more defensible, assertion that the truth is not absolute, but
individual, not out there, but in here.

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